The instant food delivery apps now offer microplastics in grocery stores
Microplastics have entered the food chain and seep into human food. Experts reveal how plastic debris enters the food chain and how we can mitigate the damage
When Pariksha Rao ordered instant cauliflower food Swiggy delivery app, arrived wrapped in nylon mesh. In order to unwrap it, he cut the web with a knife. Then a tsunami of microplastic floated through the air, stuck to her clothes, the vegetables, and landed in the darkest corners of the kitchen. Rao frantically vacuumed away the stubborn microplastics.
To relieve herself, plastic comes off her clothes and the kitchen floor. However, the real horror began when the pieces of plastic stuck to the cauliflower. All the vacuum suction on the vegetables was in vain. No amount of cutting and cleaning could separate the microplastic from the cauliflower. Finally, after several failed attempts, Rao had to throw the vegetable away.
He said to himself, “I was in the kitchen today and not my help. What if I’m not around and my help is in a similar situation?” The question seemed daunting to Rao, a clinical specialist. nutritionist and founder of health and wellness business NuWe.
Not only cauliflower, but also microplastics have seeped into the Earth at the bottom of the Mariana Trench and reached the height of Mount Everest. Tiny pieces of plastic debris have been found buried under Antarctic seas and drinking water around the world. It seeped into the intestines of marine animals and travelled into human bodies. The researchers revealed that traces of microplastics were also found in human blood.
Not surprisingly, microplastics have entered the food chain and are gradually seeping into edible foods. How does it affect the consumer and can we prevent it from ending up on our plates? To find out, Midday Online talked to top plastic studies researchers, environmentalists and nutritionists.
How do microplastics enter the food chain?
Nutritionist Pariksha Rao takes a deep dive into the process of plastic degradation. “In order to improve their properties, plastics are supplemented with additives such as plasticizers and dyes. These additives have a small molecular size and tend to leach into the surrounding environment, thereby passing through various food chains.”
These plasticizers act like magnets for toxic chemicals in the environment, transporting them within and between different habitats. Microplastics pose an additional risk to human health as they are ingested by various aquatic, freshwater and marine organisms. Consequently, they begin to accumulate through the food web.
The mass production of plastic has led to dystopian times. Microplastics are now found in agricultural soil, leading to absorption by plants, which eventually end up in the human stomach when eaten. If that’s not enough, microscopic plastic stains have also been found in treated and packaged drinking water.
A global study found that 85 percent of all tap water samples tested worldwide showed microplastics. The results showed that all tap water samples contained an average of 15-20 microplastic particles per liter, smaller than 0.5 µm in size.
“Now that number may seem small, but when you look at the problem on a macro scale, it’s scary to see how much microplastics people are ingesting directly from their drinking water,” noted Aditya Pratap Singh, who researches ways to reduce plastic pollution. in bodies of water. Currently, apart from bottled water, the aquatic food chain and tap water are the largest sources of microplastics entering the human body.
Why do microplastics escape the filtration process?
Microplastics are essentially plastic debris with a diameter of less than 5 mm. Debris can vary in size, but most particles are smaller than half a micron, or thousandths of a millimeter. At this size, they are invisible to the naked eye and pass through most filtering equipment.
Chauhan is working to find solutions to filter plastics from drinking water. He developed MICROPA – a novel approach for dye-based detection and algae-driven filtration of microplastics in drinking water.
How do aquatic organisms absorb microplastics?
Although microplastic pollution can now be found almost anywhere, the surface of the oceans and beaches have the highest concentrations of microplastics. Plastic pollution of beaches and rivers has resulted in plastic debris eventually reaching the ocean ecosystem and becoming a permanent part of it because it never breaks down, Chauhan added.
PET bottles and polyethylene bags are already proven to harm aquatic life, but microplastics now increase the risk exponentially. Microplastics on the surface of the ocean are ingested by various forms of aquatic animals. These microplastics remain in their bodies and can lead to suffocation or even death.
A 2019 study found that microplastics on the ocean surface also adsorb onto the surface of certain microalgae and sink to the ocean floor as the coagulum becomes larger and denser. This extends the danger even to deep-sea animals. Several fish and turtles that have been discovered after fishing or on sea beaches are full of microplastics that they have ingested throughout their lives and this was probably the cause of their death.
What happens when people unknowingly ingest microplastics?
Chauhan believes that the problem of microplastics in our bodies is bigger than meets the eye. It may seem that the microplastics we consume are excreted just like any other toxic substance. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with these little kitties. Scientists are constantly studying the subject, and recent studies have confirmed the presence of microplastics in the human digestive system, blood, and even the human placenta.
Being smaller than a micron, these microplastic particles can diffuse across cell membranes and penetrate muscle or blood tissues. Furthermore, continued ingestion of microplastics at current rates leads to biomagnification and ultimately inflammatory reactions. As a result, the consumption of microplastics does not have immediate health consequences, but it can cause significant damage to human health in the long term.
“It can lead to serious health conditions, from cardiovascular problems to the development of tumors, which can eventually lead to cancer. Scientists are involved in the fight against the problem of microplastics. The size of the pollutants makes it difficult to identify them and filter them later,” Chauhan added.
Environmentalist Nikhil Kaushik shares that it is difficult to determine the long-term effects on humans. In his opinion, microplastics can potentially become carriers of heavy metals, which in turn can have a serious impact on human health. The reason for such a study is the widespread presence of microplastics in virtually everything we use, making it difficult to isolate the effect of a particular exposure from other possible causes of exposure.
What methods can be used to reduce the harmful effects of microplastics?
One of the most important things to understand is that we already know that plastics do not degrade easily. They would persist for thousands of years, and we still have a lot to know about the harmful effects of microplastics in our ecosystem. Rao lists items to look for to reduce damage caused by microplastics:
Avoid single-use plastics and other synthetic plastics like nylon, polyethylene, polyester, etc.
Avoid cosmetics containing plastic elements.
Reduce shellfish consumption.
* Do not microwave food in plastic.
Vacuum and vacuum the interiors regularly.
As much as possible, resort to recycling.
How can microplastic pollution be eradicated?
Chauhan urges that the larger goal of eradicating microplastics should be to prevent plastic pollution. The use of recyclable plastics should be promoted and littering on beaches should be prevented. New policies can be introduced to encourage people to gradually transition away from using plastic.
On a personal level, one can try to avoid using plastic bottles as drinking water because they corrode from the inside over time and can ingest huge amounts of microplastics.
Rao shares industry approaches to reducing microplastic pollution:
Improving the manufacturing efficiency of plastics by using biodegradable plastics and banning single-use plastics.
Life cycle assessment of manufacturing: larger size and lighter packaging with increased reusability and recyclability; use of materials with lower energy requirements; environmentally friendly means of transport and efficient transport configurations
Reducing plastic consumption: Avoid unnecessary packaging or environmentally friendly alternatives.
Increasing awareness of the environmental effects of consumer decisions through formal (e.g. school) or informal (e.g. news reporting, cleaning) education.
Improving waste disposal through door-to-door collection, with or without charge; curbside collection; and buy-back centers (litter purchases) or rental centers.
Waste recycling through the collection of separated waste by consumers; separation of recyclable materials and removal of impurities; grounding and isolation by polymer and color.
Converting waste into energy (production of steam, heat, electricity or fuel from waste)
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